Māori Land & ‘Utilisation’ Issues

Plenty has been written by central government agencies, local government authorities, legal experts and economic development consultants on ‘unlocking the potential of Māori land. I’m definitely no expert in these matters and perhaps shouldn’t have an opinion as I will never be a Māori land owner – but my wife and tamariki are, so I like to think about what might be good for them and our descendants.
The whole notion of ‘unproductive’ Māori land is a little problematic and ironic.
Problematic because it takes a very utilitarian view of whenua, which is much more than an economic asset to be ‘utilised’ or even natural resource to be ‘managed’ or ‘protected’. Hirini Moko Mead describes it this way:
The land and the environment in which people live became the foundation of their view of the world, the centre of their universe and basis of their identity as citizens or as members of a social unit…
Land was necessary as a means of maintaining social solidarity. Land was the foundation of the social system, the base the means of giving reality to the system in the forms of residences, villages, gardens, special resource regions and so on. Continuity of the group depended every much on a home base called te wā kāinga where people could live like an extended family and actually see it on the ground as a reality.
Undoubtedly land provides a place for one to stand. This is inherent in the concept of tūrangawaewae, a place for the feet to stand; where one’s rights are not challenged, where one feels secure and at home….
The net effect of various cultural bonding mechanisms and traditional tikanga practices was to develop a relationship with the land. This relationship is about bonding to the land and having a place upon which one’s feet can be placed with confidence. The relationship is not about owning the land and being master of it, to dispose of as the owner sees fit. The land has been handed down the whakapapa line from generation to generation and the descendant fortunate enough to inherit the land does not really ‘own’ it. That person did not buy it. The land cannot be regarded as a personal asset to be traded.
(Mead, H.M. Tikanga Māori: Living By Māori Values, Huia Publishers, 2003. pp271-275)
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Legislation governing the way Māori Freehold land has been managed – since settler governments imposed British legal frameworks over most of life in Aotearoa – resulted in large tracts of Māori land being cleared for farming in the late 19th Century and many eventually having no effective administration as succession issues and urbanisation trends complicated management arrangements.
Many of those blocks left fallow for 30-50 years have started reverting to native plant cover with manuka and kanuka establishing themselves as pioneer (or seral) species that in time provide an ideal nursery for larger native trees to eventually takeover. So ironically, these ‘neglected’ land blocks are fast becoming valuable crops for the production of manuka honey, an industry experiencing exponential growth in the past ten years and on track to have a billion dollar turnover in the next five years.
The genesis of this post was when someone asked me this morning if I thought the first step to unlocking unproductive Māori land potential is improving governance of each landblock? If I had an opinion on it, I’d probably say yes and no.
Yes, I think where there is a group of shareholders already recognised by the Māori Land Court as the Responsible Trustee or Advisory Trustees for the block, then yes, they could be interested in accessing support with their governance role  – particularly planning and decision-making based on good information (getting access to the necessary ‘good information’ is another issue).
Where there isn’t that recognised group in place, or where the Māori Trustee has control of the block, there could be a service (and the government is setting up a new Māori Land Service but who knows how long establishment will take and how effective it will be) that:
  • works with any shareholders who express an interest to establish a group of owners interested in overseeing the process;
  • supports the group of engaged shareholders to contact other owners via the postal addresses held by the Māori Land Court and Te Tumu Paeroa, and via informal networks like whanau contacts and Facebook groups of various marae/hapū, to build a current database of shareholder emails that can be basis of ongoing, regular communication. Then they can start organising themselves as owners and making decisions about the land.

Just this activity of contacting shareholders and building a contact database is a huge undertaking that likely needs proper resourcing so interested shareholders can rebuild connections between whanau that may not have been physically connected to the whenua for a generation or more.

There could also be support for hapū groups to develop capability and capacity to take over land administration as Responsible Trustee from Te Tumu Paeroa to provide more active management and local accountability for decisions. Support may need to be provided to shareholders to go to the Land Court to make the changes once the hapū entities have the internal infrastructure to take on the responsibilities of administrating the land blocks in partnership with engaged shareholders.

In terms of then making ‘good decisions’ about the land use, shareholders and Responsible Trustees may be interested in accessing support to build consensus around the values they collectively hold for their whenua and systems for decision-making – particularly how the issue of share numbers may or may not determine the relative influence of shareholders in decision-making.

Locally we have recently invested in the establishment of an online platform to connect better with hapū and marae whānau, this will also be used to connect landowners in interested blocks.

Four of my ‘co-housing’ experiences

A Twitter contact, recently asked the awesome Enspiral network about experiences of co-housing – in particular experiences and issues related to things like: interest-based intentional community; shared infrastructure; social interaction; group design/build/own… I chipped in and foolishly promised to write a blog post about my experiences. So, here it is…

There are four specific experiences that my wife Tarsh and I have had in different versions of what might be considered ‘co-housing’:

  1. a faith-based community in Wellington (1994-1998)
  2. attempts at intentional community in Gisborne (2004-2006)
  3. sharing infrastructure/resources in Gisborne (2007-2014)
  4. living on the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land at Makarika near Ruatoria (2015-)

I’ll give a brief overview of my upbringing and summarise the contexts and experiences, and at the end share some lessons I think we’ve learned along the way.


I had a fairly typical upbringing in middle-class New Zealand, raised in a two parent, two child family in Tauranga, my parents both came from large working-class Pakeha families and both had been quite independent from an early age. My father considers himself an egalitarian and has a lot of sympathy for Marx and communitarian ideas. My mother worries a lot about money and security is important to her – so she would have been very pleased they were able to build the first house they owned as 20-somethings in the late 1960s for about 1,200 pounds. She was a high school teacher with a commerce degree and he was a postie who dropped out of school at 14 to work in an engineering workshop making glasses. Their co-housing experience included building a self-contained flat in the downstairs of their new house to rent out – and potentially for elderly relatives to eventually utilise, that provided extra income and extra security. And like most Kiwi kids before the internet and console games, we did heaps with the other children and families in the neighbourhood – sharing meals, childcare and gardening tools.

In the early 1980s when I had just turned 10, Mum and Dad bought a small farm with 20 acres on the edge of the city. They joined the NZ Small Farmers Association (Dad eventually becoming President for a while) and were good gardeners and tried their hand at husbandry of various animals. It was 1984-5 and interest rates shot to 24%, so they really struggled to keep the dream alive, but they managed to keep the farm as Dad had a job in the public service (Dept of Social Welfare) and Mum worked in an educational toy shop they owned with another couple. Eventually the city expanded and the farm was acquired by the local authorities in 2001 who wanted to use the flats for stormwater run off from all the new subdivisions being built on what were previously similar small farms and orchards.


1: Urban Vision, Wellington (1994-1998)

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Our wedding reception in 1998 – the old orphanage I was living in is just through the trees – a great meal was provided by our generous UV friends who gave up their day (and the night before) to help us out. All up we spent about $1,000 on the wedding and reception for 200+ guests. So cheap, in more ways than one!

 

After leaving school, I moved to Wellington to study design and got involved with an organisation called Youth For Christ Wellington. YFC had its origins in the conservative North American evangelical movement but the Wellington branch had become quite progressive. In addition to the youth clubs YFC had always run with volunteers, we started more focused conscientisation groups with young people and would regularly organise protests, pickets and support civil disobedience aimed at challenging the abuse of political power, oppression, injustice and violence against the poor and marginalised – whether it was Council housing tenants, young offenders, East Timorese villagers or Iraqi families. We had a number of flats of young people as well as one home for teenage girls that were unable to live with their family because it was too dangerous for the girl or because the girl had burnt her bridges (sometimes the home) with family.

Out of this came an idea to move away from YFC and form an intentional community called ‘Urban Vision‘ to develop more intentional cooperative living arrangements grounded in common interests and a faith doctrine focused on a ‘discipleship journey’ and gospel of helping those from more privileged backgrounds give up some of the opportunities and benefits of their privilege and to create opportunities for those society had marginalised to realise their full potential.

We took over an old Presbyterian orphanage that a local church had previously housed a number of young adults in. The building was ugly, cold and rundown but we turned it into a home for teenage boys supported by a group of young adult men (aged 22-40ish). We had room for 14 of us – seven teenagers and seven ‘men’. The adults paid to live there, sometimes the boys were referred Child Youth & Family Services so they had an care and accomodation allowance that contributed to their costs, other times they were referred by Police, schools or friends and didn’t have any funds to contribute.

At the same time other co-housing experiments were being established in the wider Urban Vision community with a couple of households focused on the inner-city and homeless populations, another on refugees and migrants, another group was based in the Council housing units, another provided supported accomodation for young men with intellectual disabilities and another specifically for Maori girls run by wahine Maori.

Resources in most of these co-housing arangements were shared through a household budget and those that were able to give more did so. Some had a main couple, often with small children with teenagers, with teenagers and/or single adults living with them. Some were large buildings like an old carpet factory in Cuba Street that housed 15+ people at a time, others were small 1-2 bedroom units in Council housing estates.

The Urban Vision community gathered together weekly for a shared meal, prayer, singing and collective celebrations, though eventually after we had left the ‘teams’ focused on particular communities got too large and the big UV get togethers were less frequent as much larger venues were required and the smaller teams kept meeting daily and/or weekly.

UV has continued to evolve, about ten years ago it became an ‘order’ of the Anglican church and one of the UV founders, Justin Duckworth, is now the Bishop of Wellington.

Around 2000, Justin, his wife Jenny, their family and a couple of friends involved with UV formed another trust and purchased Ngatiawa, an old Presbyterian campsite on the Kapiti Coast. This has provided accommodation and a common life together for hundred of people, young, old, single, couples, families – as well as a retreat from the city for many of the people connected to UV homes in Wellington. A number of UV members and affiliates have trades and have helped construct and renovate a dozen or so buildings including large halls and dining spaces, cabin accommodation, family homes, a chapel and other facilities. Each year Ngatiawa community hosts the Passionfest music/arts/theology/resistance/community festival.


2: Attempts at intentional community, Gisborne (1998-2006)

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Before we bought the units

Moving to Gisborne in 1998 to care for Tarsh’s grandparents who raised her, was a bit of a shock. Coming out of the high commitment, high intensity of Urban Vision, I was both happy and sad – we enjoyed the opportunity to do whatever we wanted from scratch, but I missed the level of support and accountability that the intentional community provided.

We bought a house with help from my parents, and Tarsh’s grandparents and two of their sons lived with us off and on for a couple of years until her grandfather passed away in 2001.

Tarsh and I got involved with Te Ora Hou, a faith-based Maori youth and community development organisation that started as the Maori and Pasifika arm of YFC in the 1970s and became its own national organisation in the mid-90s.

While we were still heavily involved in a wide range of local community projects on both voluntary and paid roles, Tarsh was content to be doing our own thing. I was missing the sense of purpose and direction I enjoyed in the intentional community experience of UV and so we had a go at a co-housing experiment. In 2004 we had the opportunity to purchase four adjacent residences, initially we hoped to do it under the auspices of Te Ora Hou locally, in the end the TOH board were reluctant to invest in residential property so we purchased the four residences (two 3 bedroom houses and two three bedroom units) and immediately sold the units to another Te Ora Hou family and rented out one of the houses to another Te Ora Hou family before selling it to a third family.

Incidentally, we sold our original house after advertising it at three different prices: The lowest price was for first-home buyers, the next price ($10,000 higher), was for purchasers who already owned a home but planned to live in this one, and the top price (another $10,000 higher) was for anyone who just wanted to buy it as a rental ‘investment’. I still think this is how Housing NZ should arrange its sales when it flogs off unwanted properties – give preference to those who need it most and disincentives for speculators and investors.

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A few years after the units had been renovated into one house

So the units sold to one of the TOH families were converted into one house by knocking a hole in the downstairs wall. The three properties were able to share a common backyard, we took turns moving each others lawns with a shared lawnmower and the kids played between them. We had meals together at least once a week. Before domestic WiFi was easily accessible we even strung ethernet cables between the three properties and shared one internet account. Sometimes we’d share a washing machine and dryer between homes, regularly had each others children in our care (to varying degrees of care, my tendency to be too relaxed and distracted probably didn’t build great confidence in my childcare services) and we would often borrow a vehicle from one of the other households.

This arrangement came to end by 2007 – one of the families was highly committed to the intentional community idea, one was not sure they wanted to be there anymore and another was having internal conflicts about the whole nature of the arrangements and the inherent tensions of doing something ‘intentional’ with some neighbours and not others.


3: Sharing resources, Gisborne (2007-2014)

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So by 2008 the other two families had moved out of the neighbourhood and new families moved in. We bought the house that had been the units back off that family and shifted in, we sold the house we had been in to another young couple involved with Te Ora Hou who shared our interest in doing voluntary youth work and community activities in the neighbourhood – but without the same level of intensity we had experienced with the previous neighbours. We had another single man (an old school friend of mine who has become an uncle to our kids and our closest friend) and Tarsh’s grandmother – move into our house with us and our two children.

This arrangement worked quite well for everyone – we had childcare and a wonderful cook on tap, he got to live with and contribute to a family he loves deeply. Tarsh’s grandmother had a self-contained part of the house and company looking out for her everyday, and our kids got to experience living with their great grandmother for the last years of her life.

Over this time we continued sharing meals, backyards, lawnmowers, washing machines, surfboards, vehicles, etc. and a community garden over the back fence – but without any explicit commitment to each other beyond neighbourly sharing and caring.

Our single friend living with spent a lot of his own money helping renovate parts of the house and outside areas, he had a real investment in the family and the property – but eventually we all agreed that the season was coming to an end and he won a post-doctoral scholarship to Cambridge University so left us for the UK. After he left Tarsh’s grandmother got too frail with dementia and Tarsh made the difficult decision to let her go first to the home of an aunty and then into a nursing home just before she passed away. We had another couple of relations live with us after our friend moved out and then a year or two of just us and the kids before we sold up at the end of 2014.


4: Living at the marae and building on multiply-owned Maori land, Makarika/Ruatoria (2015-)

In March 1997 when Tarsh turned 24, as her new boyfriend (as of that day) I gave her an antique builders level. We were living in Wellington, part of the newly formed Urban Vision community, and she had told me her dream was to return to the East Coast one day and build on whānau whenua (traditional family land).

Like many other Ngati Porou, Tarsh’s mum and most of her siblings, moved from the Coast to big cities for education and employment opportunities in the 1960s and 70s. Tarsh was raised by her grandparents but in her last year of high school went to live with her mother in Christchurch – which felt a long way from the East Coast – both geographically and culturally.

We had our first child, Miria, in 2002, and from an early age decided we wanted our children to have experience living in the heart of Ngati Porou on the Coast.

Gisborne is great, but it’s still very urban and Pakeha dominated. Tarsh says “We want our kids to live in a community where Ngati Poroutanga is the culture, immersed everyday in the reo, tikanga and landmarks of my tipuna. Those taonga are the birth-right of every Ngati Porou child and you can’t get them anywhere except within your own turangawaewae.”
For the last ten years we have been actively involved with Penu (Rongo-i-te-Kai) Pa, at Makarika just south of Ruatoria. I have been the marae Treasurer since 2005 and Tarsh has been stepping up to help at tangi, wananga and other activities that happen around the pa.

While we talked about planning to ‘move home’ for Miria to attend high school, it wasn’t until that time was just about upon us that the work really started.

We looked at a range of options – renting or buying a house in Ruatorea, relocating an existing building, starting with a shed, using a kitset and even building from local and recycled materials.

Penu Pa sits on the original Totaranui block that runs from Makarika to Hiruharama. Totaranui A1D2B2B is 130 hectares between State Highway 35 and the summit of Tutae-a-Whata and Tarsh’s grandmother owned ten percent of the shares in the block through her grandmother who was the original owner. The block is administered by Te Tumu Paeroa, the Maori Trustee, and leased by Tarsh’s cousin who farms most of it.

The first step was to seek support from the other 300 landowners. Te Tumu Paeroa and the Maori Land Court only have addresses for about 150 of the listed owners, so a letter from us went out to these owners asking for permission to use a small section of the block to put a house on. The overwhelming response was full support for the request.

There were a number of shareholders very happy to hear that a whanau wanted to live on the land. We don’t know most of them, but of course Tarsh is related to all of them. Many of the older ones lived here in their younger years and would like to live here again but their circumstances make that difficult.

With support from Te Tumu Paeroa, the shareholders and current leasee, we then had to find a bank willing to lend on Maori land. A government programme called Kainga Whenua is designed to help Maori build on multiply-owned land – the interest rates and deposit required are the same as any other bank but Housing New Zealand underwrites the loan for Kiwibank, so there is less risk for the lender.

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Our whare designed by Shane Kingsbeer & Greg Saunders

The Kainga Whenua scheme is far from perfect and very frustrating at times. Because the bank can’t use the land as collateral they will only lend what the building is worth. Registered valuations ($800 each) must be done at each step of the build to allow the next amount of funds to be drawn down to pay for the builder, materials and sub-contractors. This adds significant costs and delays to the building process.

This probably would have had less impact if we had started the build before moving! We have been living in caravans at Penu Pa all this year waiting for the house to be built.

In many ways it’s been the perfect transition from the city to the Coast. Living in caravans at the pa has its challenges, but it’s also been like one long camping holiday for the kids and we been able to pay rent to the pa instead of someone else.

I work for clients around the country from our caravan utilising the free Nati Waiwhai internet provided to the pa by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou.

We helped establish Hikurangi Takiwa Trust, a hapu (tribal) collective for the six pa in the local area, and both have volunteered in a range of roles for the trust. There are two existing papakainga of 4-6 houses each in the hapu and a third is currently in the early stages of development. Like us they are built on multiply-owned Maori land but the buildings all belong to a trust or marae, whereas in our situation we own the building and just lease the land it sits on.

The new house is almost completed and we have built it just over the fence from the marae. This has allowed us to save some significant costs as we got marae committee and Council consent to utilise the marae septic tanks system, electricity is also close already as is vehicle access – and family visitors can use the marae communal sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities and still be close to us.

This marae has always had someone living at it, there is Nanny Lucky who still lives here she spends her days doing gardening and sleeps in the dining hall or with her son in the cottage next door. Before her we had Papa, he drank too much and caused a few issues but was always happy to see any visitors and kept the place warm for everyone else. Back in the 70s another old man lived here – that was before the new dining hall was built so he cooked his meals in the meeting house, spelt in there and had it set up like a lounge with a TV.

I think there is heaps of potential for marae to provide housing for older people who are still independent but who need somewhere to feel at home and appreciate both the history and the communal living opportunities that marae provide.

We’re living the dream and have found it’s not as hard as we thought, wish we’d done it ages ago.

While packing up our house in Gisborne last year I found the builders level I gave Tarsh when we first got together 18 years ago, we plan to display it in our new house built on whanau whenua before her next birthday.

 


Conclusion: Some lessons learned

  • Intentionality should be allowed to grow organically. As the great Jean Vanier has suggested, those who go looking for community probably won’t find it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try – it’s just saying that those who earnestly attempt to build community sometimes try too hard and instead we should focus on nurturing caring relationships wherever we are and let the communal live emerge naturally where it will.
  • Issues around money tend to bring out the worst in people. We often think we’re entitled to more than we are, or we think someone else is taking too much, or we leave arrangements too ill-defined for fear of tackling the money matters, we conveniently ‘forget’ the details of some agreements, etc.
  • We can always share more. My parents generation were sold the Kiwi Dream – a couple, 2.4 kids, a mortgage and one or two incomes. That ‘dream’ of consumerism is a nightmare in a finite world and no good for mental health and community. Whether it is starting with the bare basics like sharing a lawnmower, creating a community garden, adding a spare room  or taking it all the way to the ‘common purse’ between a group of families and singles – there is always more to share.
  • We can always make space for others. We have a number of single friends now in their 40s who have chosen not to relentlessly pursue the societal expectations of couplehood and who challenge the dominant paradigm of what it means to be a family. Some of them enjoy living by themselves but appreciate the opportunity to participate in family life during significant times of the year like birthdays and Christmas; others can’t stand to be by themselves so have found ways to bring others into their home and/or helped create home with other single people and families. These are the people who often provide care and support for both the young and old who are too often overlooked by those of us with tight-knit nuclear families.
  • Indigenous and cooperative models are better for us and the environment. We like the idea of living on multiply-owned land – it makes decisions, plans and actions a lot harder and often adds more financial costs but can in the long run mean costs are saved to the household, community and environment. Ultimately it means we have to take others views into account and the wider implications for the community and the environment get factored in more than if we control the resources and most of the decision-making process.

 

Note: #4 section is a rewrite of an article we wrote for a recent edition of Nati Link magazine about our experience moving to the marae and building a new house on the land. 

Self-Helping Ourselves – As Communities

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I cried this morning when I heard that another child in our community took her own life last night. That’s the fourth young person in the last year and this precious child is only a year older than our own daughter. Of course in small communities, every child is our own. These reflections and potential actions are my small way to help make sure this tragedy isn’t in vain.

Like many young people in our society, I had suicidal thoughts as a 16 year old. A girl that I liked decided she preferred someone else – I decided the world was ending and thought about how I could stop the hurt I was feeling. I don’t recall exactly what stopped me from going through with my preferred option but shortly afterwards I had a sort of spiritual rebirthing experience that gave me a new outlook on life and my place in the world, I think that helped a lot.

Over my twenty years in youth development work, the government has had numerous youth suicide prevention plans and strategies. One of the most recent initiatives, the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project came out of a major report produced for John Key by his chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. From the report’s recommendations some new government-funded services were rolled out – few of them reaching as far as Ruatoria.

So, while there is a lot of useful evidence and some published resources available in print and online, it seems the best chance we have is self-helping ourselves – as whole communities rather than as individuals.

There is a range of things I think we can do to improve the situation for our rangatahi:

  1. Specific support in the home and at school to build their emotional intelligence and healthy cognition: helping young people understand their feelings better and correct unhelpful and untrue thoughts;
  2. More information and encouragement for young people to support each other in helpful ways with the challenges of everyday life and in tough times.
  3. Authentic and helpful expressions of care from adults: Every young person needs adults in their life they can trust and talk to about complicated things, and often these adults won’t be their parents. They can be relatives or neighbours, coaches or employers… and unlike new government regulations, they don’t need to be vetted, qualified or certified to provide genuine care.
  4. Better information for adults: Parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours, coaches, teachers, employers and grandparents need better information about how to raise healthy young people in a fairly sick society. There is heaps of useful guidance for the universal foundations of positive youth development – and some good information on approaches that work best for specific genders, cultures and other groups.

I’m keen to put some more energy into all the above, in the hope our community may be spared another loss like we have experienced today. 

Anyone keen to help or got better suggestions? 

Now is a time to grieve and to make some commitments.

More Bureaucracy = Less Community

Four years ago the Government produced the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. Nearly 10,000 submissions were made on the Green Paper and in response, the Government released the White Paper for Vulnerable Children with the Children’s Action Plan in October 2012.

I helped write a submission on the Green Paper and was pleased to see some of the suggestions we made got a nod in the White Paper – particularly around focusing on villages and neighbourhoods as the most significant sites to invest in for child protection. The big disappointment was that – despite all the evidence on why focusing on the community is the best approach to keep kids safe – few of these ideas made it into the White Paper and only one initiative (working with a handful of existing providers of volunteer-based mentoring programmes) seems to have any resourcing in the Action Plan.

Communities have a role to play in stepping up to support children, their families and wha-nau, so they can succeed and look after themselves.

Research shows us that a strong community around a child, family or wha-nau plays a critical means of building resilience and supporting vulnerable families earlier. Some of our most vulnerable communities are well known, such as refugee and migrant groups, and some specific rural and urban neighbourhoods.

There are good examples of promising community initiatives where communities generate solutions to better connect and support vulnerable children, families, wha-nau, hapu- and iwi to succeed. However, many communities still need more leadership, information and guidance to play their role in better supporting vulnerable children, and their families and wha-nau.

Stronger communities can also be achieved through local government providing strategic leadership to support communities coming up with solutions for their most vulnerable children, and their families and whanau.

(source: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2011)

What did make it into the Action Plan and has been funded is business as usual responses – more professionals, more administrators, more agency-centric approaches to issues that can’t be solved by paying more people to look harder for children at risk and work with families to prepare safety plans and run more checks on other professionals.

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

I just received a response to my Official Information Act request asking how much has been spent on the new Children’s Teams – a new iteration of Strengthening Families, only families are less involved in the decision-making. It turns out nearly $5 million has been spent to date so that “trained people in the community refer children to local professionals who work with families/whanau to help and support the child.”

The rhetoric is lovely, but looking behind the warm, fluffy titles, the reality is more bureaucracy and a less caring community. ‘Children at the centre of what we do’ sounds great, but it really means families are less empowered, professional ‘carers’ are given more powers and responsibilities, more ‘systems’ are required to manage the professionals and more administrators paid to administer the systems. Paying people to support social development is fine, but the emphasis and focus is all wrong. When you read what the government means by ‘child centred’ it turns out to be all about more people being paid to manage problems – they even call the people writing plans for ‘vulnerable’ children the ‘Lead Professionals’.

‘Working Together, Sharing Responsibility’ sounds interesting, but turns out to be about professionals being organised by a new level of bureaucracy under the Children’s Teams banner and a national hotline for people with concerns about children (in other words, rebranding the 0508 FAMILY phone line that CYF has used for more than 15 years).

Since the 1980s the emphasis for government-funded social development in New Zealand has been on ‘professionalising the (social work) workforce’, and commercialising community organisations so they run more like businesses – with strategic plans full of mission statements, business plans and a ‘customer’ or ‘client’ focus. Ironically the Puao-Te-Ata-Tu inspired 1989 Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act had a strong focus on community, whānau, hapū and iwi leadership in the care and protection of children – instead the trend has been consistently toward increasing the role of agents of the state, whether they are Child Youth & Family staff or ‘community’ organisations carrying out the work that the Ministry of Social Development or more recently Whānau Ora Commissioning agencies want them to do on behalf of the state.

The other major plank of the Action Plan is legislation requiring anyone who works with children to undergo Police-vetting, yet another exercise in over-regulation and bureaucracy – especially when you consider who does the abusing of children – recent studies have suggested the figures for those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years are something like: 11% is by a stranger, 30% by a male relative (other than child’s father or stepfather), 16% by a neighbour or acquaintance, 13% by the father or stepfather and 15% by another known person – a proportion of these will be the paid or volunteer adults in a childcare, school, sports, community or youth work context. So, I’ve asked for information on how much government money is being spent on establishing and implementing this new regulation – that won’t include all the extra time required by all the agencies and organisations that now have to get their workers checked.

So from my perspective, some of the initiatives being rolled out through the Action Plan are totally the wrong way to go, others may have some merit but the main point is that nothing of significance is being put into helping shift the culture of our neighbourhoods and villages where families and children live, work and play everyday.

Investment needs to be at the street level, not at a city or regional level that trusting relationships are nurtured and the forces against that are great – from the increasing individualism of consumer culture to the disempowering reliance on paid professionals to solve problems that must be addressed by families and neighbourhoods if they are to have any chance of enduring change.

Innovative Sexual Abuse Campaign Hailed a Success

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O'Neill

Still from the campaign video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill

A locally designed, produced and distributed sexual violence prevention campaign has been hailed a success based on feedback from a survey of Gisborne residents.

Te Ora Hou Te Tairāwhiti commissioned research in 2013 to identify local parents attitudes and activity around protecting their children from sexual violence. The findings from dozens of interviews and focus groups helped inform the design of a campaign across multiple media targeting local caregivers.

A series of radio advertisements, a websitesocial media resources and a provocative video produced by Gisborne film-maker Josh O’Neill were developed. The ads and video were used over six months to communicate key messages about knowing where children are, who they are with and how to talk to them about keeping safe. Nearly 20,000 Facebook users were reached with the video that has been played over 7,000 times – mostly by Gisborne residents.

A street survey of 100 random residents has been completed and the campaign developers are pleased with the findings.

Survey feedback was from a broad age range, with the largest group of respondents in the 30 something bracket. 62 respondents identified as Māori, 49 as European New Zealander, Pākehā or Kiwi, 11 as Pacific Islanders and four as Asian. Approximately three quarters of respondents were female.

Just over a quarter of respondents had seen the video online and 38% remembered hearing the radio ads. One in five had seen the campaign Facebook page and 15% had visited the campaign website.

For those that had seen or heard any of the campaign material (54/100 individuals), the campaign affirmed existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviours for about three quarters of respondents. 

A quarter of those who had seen or heard the campaign material said it motivated them enough that they raised the issues or a concerning situation with someone and the same number said they took action such as offering support to others or checking on a vulnerable child as a result of the campaign messages.

15% said their attitudes or beliefs about sexual abuse and neglect of children changed as a result of the campaign material.

Many respondents said they felt ‘angry’, ‘sad’, ‘sick’ and ‘afraid’ for the children in these situations after watching the video and hearing the ads. Some felt there needed to be much more sharing of similar messages:

“…so people are more aware and don’t sweep it under the carpet.” 

Many had personal experiences as victims or close friends and family who had been in similar situations:

“It made me relive my experience as a child.”

“I will be aware more for others and family as well around my future children.”

Other felt more determined to protect their children and others.

There was relief expressed that the message was being promoted on the airwaves and online:

“I feel relieved that there is now a source for public awareness.”

Some respondents shared ideas for getting the messages out further:

“Send information packs into the homes, fridge magnets. Get invites to marae meetings, school trustees meetings, just any area of the community that engage family. Big posters everywhere. Billboards maybe.”

“I think this is great and we need more ads of this sort. And more involvement from other child organisations also.”

“Hopefully this local campaign isn’t just a one off and it can be continued.”

A small number of respondents who had not seen the material were triggered by the video and were offered support and information on local helping services.

Project manager Manu Caddie said the survey sample was statistically significant and could be considered a snapshot of the wider population.

“That means more than 17,000 local adults have heard or seen the material and it has stuck with them enough to recall the messages” said Mr Caddie. “It means over 4,000 people are likely to have intervened in a situation to prevent sexual abuse or neglect as a direct result of this campaign.”

An economist commissioned in 2012 by Te Ora Hou to estimate the value for money in action to protect children found that preventing a single case of child abuse results in a saving of at least $20,000 to the public purse, let alone all the positive personal benefits for the child and their family of being spared the trauma and suffering of sexual violence and abuse.

“So even if only one per cent of the 4,000 people who did something as a result of the campaign actually prevented an incident of sexual violence or physical abuse, that’s a potential saving of $800,000.”

Mr Caddie said the campaign had been well supported by local media including The Gisborne Herald and iwi radio stations. He also paid tribute to former Gisborne woman and Te Ora Hou project manager Justine Crawford who led much of the campaign development work.

“A couple of radio stations are still running the ads after payment for them had finished because they know the message is so important” said Mr Caddie.

The Ministry of Social Development provided $38,000 in total for the initial research, local media campaign and evaluation with the proviso that if it was effective in Gisborne the material and approach may be used nationally.

“We think MSD has got real value for money and with the Cabinet paper leaked last week showing plans for a greater emphasis on child protection, we hope there are lessons learnt from this project that can be used in other communities.”

Mr Caddie said part of the motivation for the campaign was the paucity of information and social marketing targeting parents. “We know most children go in and out of extreme vulnerability at different stages in their early years, so any social marketing needs to reach the whole community and if we can prevent more violence and chronic neglect then we’ll have a safer, healthier community with less problems later in life.”

While the Budget last week announced significant increases in funding for the Childrens Teams, Mr Caddie said he is skeptical of continued emphasis on the child and family in isolation from their community. “It takes a village to raise a child and we think more resources need to be going into changing attitudes in behaviours within communities where vulnerable children live rather than pouring money into more professionals which is really ‘agency-centric’ rather than child, family or community centred.”

A report released last week by Treasury showed strong support for an approach to tackling difficult issues called Community-Led Development with less emphasis on paid professionals and more power given to residents in specific areas deciding what they will do to make the community safer and healthier for everyone.

“Whanau Ora has potential” said Mr Caddie, “but like Childrens Team’s, the new budget announcement sounds like the lion’s share of money will be going to employing more community-based social work positions working with individual families instead of seeing the community as the client.”

Te Ora Hou, established in the 1970s as a faith-based Māori community and youth development organisation, is involved with Community-Led Development projects in Whangarei, Gisborne, Hastings, Whanganui, Wellington and Christchurch.

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Mixed Fortunes

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Sunrise in the windows of an 100 year old building in Tokomaru Bay on the morning the Mixed Fortunes report was released. #metaphor

Community leaders scrambling to defend the region in light of the Salvation Army report yesterday was understandable but a bit disappointing.

I’m not sure why anyone was surprised that Northland and Gisborne top the country for all the worst statistics – it’s been that way for a few generations now. Shooting the messenger – before even reading the message – shows both a lack of confidence in the region and credibility as a commentator.

If we look behind the numbers in the report it is completely understandable that Gisborne stands out – we have a very low population compared to other regions and lower average income and higher Māori population. Wellington, Auckland and even Tauranga have communities facing similar challenges to Gisborne but their regional statistics look better because they have higher proportions of the community with higher incomes and there are more employment opportunities in big centres. Māori are still recovering from the impacts of colonisation and it will take some time and better efforts from everyone before Māori health, justice, education and employment statistics are equal with the rest of the population.

Urban migration from rural communities to metropolitan centres is a global phenomenon as small family farms become marginal in the face of industrialised agri-business. Increasing profits by using machines instead of more costly human labour has been the point of business since the industrial revolution. And we wonder why we have an unemployment problem?

I think the report is really helpful and we should be thanking the Salvation Army for helping draw attention to the issues again.

A local yesterday said “the Salvation Army doesn’t know Gisborne”, those kinds of comments show that there are people in Gisborne who don’t really know Gisborne.

I was pleased to hear a couple of councillors have invited the report author to come to Gisborne for a discussion about the report findings and recommendations.

The recommendation to develop national sustainability goals to ensure the progress of all regions should also be taken up at a local level. Unfortunately there seems to be little sense of urgency within the local institutions that have the mandate and resources to influence significant change:

  • Gisborne District Council continues to excuse itself from any meaningful leadership in terms of truly sustainable development. Other councils have at least developed useful regional progress measures that help identify where more attention and resources are required to affect meaningful change.
  • Tairawhiti District Health Board seems to understand some of the issues but is hamstrung by central government priorities, high salaries for some medical staff and limited funds having to stretch further each year.
  • Eastland Community Trust and iwi authorities have limited mandates and capabilities at present but they do have ambitious vision, significant capital and opportunities to marshal additional support.
  • Activate Tairawhiti has a big mandate but no resources to do anything other than organise meetings.
  • Local offices of central government agencies are driven by their bosses in Wellington rather than local priorities.

Likewise we need a local plan to meet the challenges of an aging population, resource scarcity and rising inequality in our region. Accelerating the adoption of new technologies and social arrangements, could help but those arrangements may also require understanding our situation differently. For example the official deprivation levels in Kaiti and Ruatoria are the same but the issues are quite different – on the Coast access to quality health services may be a big challenge but families don’t need to earn a lot when they depend less on the supermarket and more on the land and sea to source food. For example, should public policy encourage more families to return to small farming?

So let’s welcome this useful piece of research, thank the authors and take the time as a community to fully appreciate the reality of the opportunities available to us as a region.

Scoring own goal can mean you’re trying to change the rules – or The Game

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Kia ora Nandor, thanks for this great post: ‘Not Voting is An Own Goal‘.

I think you make some valid points though I disagree with you on a couple of others.

For the first time, I didn’t vote this election – it was mostly for personal reasons but it got me thinking about the more public/political reasons for choosing not to vote:

  • Ignorance about the political system, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, etc. is one reason some people do not vote. They haven’t made an effort to find out, or have thought it was not something they are allowed to do because it’s just not a system or society they feel a part of in any meaningful way. (Read this excellent reflection on these issues)
  • Others just ‘can’t be bothered’, they know they probably should but can’t get motivated enough to spend 15 minutes of their time going into a polling booth. That lack of motivation has a variety of contributing factors to it which may include being new to the place or just having other more pressing personal priorities, which may include emotional or physical needs.
  • Others choose not to vote because they honestly don’t know which person or party they would want to give their vote to – they feel ill informed and unwilling to commit one way or another because they haven’t got enough information.
    Another group don’t want to vote because they don’t have confidence in any party or politician – as a society politicians are way down the bottom of professions we trust. They have heard all the promises, probably participated in elections previously and maybe been a member of a political party but have been so disappointed by the inability of any party to live up to the expectations they held that they currently can no longer bring themselves to support any party or candidate.
  • I’m not sure if it’s a different group, a subset of the last one or just the same people with a different expression for their lack of confidence, but there are people who have given up on the whole process, the ones you suggest don’t want to legitimise a rotten system and think that voting ‘just encourages the politicians’. You suggest that this decision to not vote ‘will have absolutely no impact at all’ – but I’m not so sure.

For a starter, when nearly a million eligible voters don’t exercise the right, it provokes these kinds of discussions and encourages more deliberation on the validity of the system, the legitimacy and effectiveness of representative democracy, the possibility of more effective and potentially disastrous alternatives, the level of social capital and social infrastructure in our society that means such a large proportion of the population are disenfranchised (or not) and allowing others to determine (or not) the future for the most vulnerable in our communities, etc.

Choosing not to vote, is still a vote. It may have made John Key more likely to win, but then a Labour-led alternative is not any more attractive to many of us. Concessions on RMA and welfare reform, indigenous rights, mechanisms to address inequality, state asset sales and ties to the US economy and global military industrial complex would continue to frustrate many of us who like to think we vote with a little less self-interest than the majority of our fellow citizens. Choosing not to vote is a message to say, the system is broken (no where near as much as some others) and we want to put energy into improving or replacing it.

I think there is a place for a Vote of No Confidence option on the ballot, a space for those who don’t think we should settle for the current form of government modelled on (and still linked to) the Westminster system imposed by European settlers on these islands.

There are plenty of improvements we can make to the system (I listed some toward the end of this post), and we can help create those changes with or without central government support. There are examples of this happening all the time using existing institutions and creating new processes and contexts for reducing the influence of the dominant paradigm on our families and communities.

Likewise we can build authentic alternatives for self-governance, most likely without public support and eventually these will create conflict with the dominant system if they refuse to contribute to its maintenance and self-legitimising mechanisms for survival. This is a much more costly option and is unlikely to succeed, but if it’s all too hard then we continue to meddle and tinker with a massive infrastructure that is controlled by very powerful forces that refuse to give up power while we’re running out of time to make the changes the world needs to have any chance of a decent future.
I like your point that voting doesn’t actually take much effort and provided it’s value and potential is seen for little effort and little impact it has, it’s not really so demanding that we should abstain for any good reason.

I’ll probably vote again in the future, but by not doing so this time, I’m choosing not to abdicate anything to the government and voting for myself to take more responsibility for creating the community, country and planet I want my kids to be able to contribute to.

USA Tour Report (May 2013)

Thanks to a generous gift from the Orangi Kaupapa Trust, I was able (and required as a condition of receiving the gift) to do something I wanted to do for myself. It’s only taken a year to write this brief account of the trip.

Manu Caddie, June 2014

 

Los Angeles – Gang Intervention & Prevention

Josh Wharehinga (Ka Pai Kaiti) and I had the privilege of visiting Homeboy Industries, an organisation started 25 years ago by a Catholic priest and a few church volunteers in a Los Angeles ghetto.

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Myself, Francisco & Josh Wharehinga at Homeboy Industries

Our tour guide Francisco had parents from two rival gangs, he was six years old when his best friend had his head blown off as they walked to school and were confronted by another young person wanting to know which gang the boy affiliated to. At 14 Francisco had his first child and soon after did a ten year lag in prison after taking the rap for another gang member’s crime.

Homeboy Industries now employs around 300 ex-gang affiliated young people in a number of social enterprises. The people who come to Homeboy Industries typically stay for 18-24 months before transitioning into other businesses around the city.

The organisation bakes 1,000 loaves of bread each day and sells them in farmers markets, a café and bakery. They also run a successful screen-printing business, retail shop and tattoo removal service. A free counselling service is available and during the move to permanent work, a team of employment placement supervisors ensure the workers and employers have access to regular support over the transition period.

Francisco has been with Homeboy Industries for nearly two years and beyond all the work skills, therapy and tattoo removal he has received, the most important thing from his perspective was the unconditional love and acceptance he found in Father Greg and the other people of faith at Homeboy Industries.

Francisco now shares the faith in action he experienced through this group of believers. Rather than expecting these hurt, confused and often distrusting young people to join a church, a community of faith has been established and become a beautiful physical, social and spiritual home for many otherwise marginalised members of society.

 

Portland – Liveable City

I spent three days in Portland, Oregon primarily because I was interested experiencing the ‘cycling capital of America’.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Massive spaces on Portland roads for cycles.

Understanding how the city had evolved over the last 40 years – radical neighbourhood democracy in the early 70s paved the way for resident action while very conservative administrations led the city through the 80s and 90s. Now the city boasts a massive network of cycleways and neighbourhood development projects thanks in large part to the neighbourhood groups established a long time ago.

While the cycleways are an impressive feature of the city, compared to Gisborne and other New Zealand cities, there still seemed to be a high reliance on private cars. I was fortunate to participate in a May Day protest and got a taste of the culture of the city that has been the basis of the brand ‘Keep Portland Weird’ – the quirky, alternative lifestyle ‘dream of the 90s’ is alive in Portland as the ‘Portlandia’ song goes.

On my way to the Red and Black Café, an anarchist coffee shop, pub and bookstore – I popped in briefly to visit ADX, a cooperative space that ‘in a few short years has incubated over 100 start-ups and 200 crowd-sourced projects’ – an impressive shared design and construction space that a number of start-ups use to establish themselves. Kind of a craft and construction version of the Enspiral model we have seen emerge in Wellington. I think there is lots of potential for these kinds of initiatives but the capital and space required needs to come from somewhere like the philanthropic sector, local government or well-established business sponsors.

 

Chicago – Participatory Budgeting

My main reason for travelling to the USA was to attend the 2nd Annual Conference on Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada.

PB Chicago street sign

PB Chicago street sign

Participatory Budgeting internationally owes some of its roots to initiatives that were undertaken in Christchurch in the early 1990s – these are often cited by overseas practitioners and experts as important models they recognise as leading to further innovations in other countries like Brazil, Europe and North America.

I registered for a pre-conference workshop at the Great Cities Institute at UIC College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. This was a valuable introduction to current PB practice and trends in the USA.

Following the workshop we attended the opening plenary ‘The People’s Budget: Participatory Budgeting in Mexico, New York, and Chicago’ at Madero Middle School in West Chicago, this was a public event in Spanish with English interpretation – a great example of bi-ligualism in practice and something I envied having raised our children only speaking Te Reo Māori to them. The neighbourhood is very depressed but PB is thriving and a New York City councillor shared her experience of PB as well.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

PB projects that citizens can vote for.

I was fortunate to have a presentation selected to share on ‘Public Finance Planning in New Zealand Local Government’, it received a favourable response from attendees. It was in the first workshop session so I got to enjoy the rest of the conference without any nervous wait. I was not disappointed, all of the sessions I attended were inspiring, practical and provocative. I brought home many resources, ideas and contacts that I intend to use in my paid and voluntary work for years to come. The Pacific Centre for Participatory Democracy is an idea I have used for the last ten years and I plan to formalise it over the next few years and I expect PB will be a key part of its work plan.

Census surprises

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The Census results provide a useful set of information for anyone who cares about the future of our region.

With one in three locals now aged under 20 and half the population under 40, we need to ensure the voices of young citizens are heard clearly and that we provide decent support to help them grow as contributing members of our community. I would also be keen to hear from the three local teenagers who said they earn over $100,000 per year!

Ethnic and cultural identity figures are very interesting. The proportion of the population identifying as Māori remains about the same at 49 percent (likely to be a bit higher in reality). Many of us Pākehā seem to have some ambivalence and lack of confidence about our cultural identity. The number of local ‘European’ residents has jumped sharply, while those claiming ‘New Zealander’ as their ethnicity has dropped by over 3,000. Pacific peoples have increased by about 15 percent and other ethnic groups, including Asian, have all increased more modestly. While we may be one of least ethnically diverse regions, few others have Asian and African political leaders!

Though we do have 804 people – including the three teenagers – earning over $100,000, we have comparatively low income levels and the lowest home ownership rates in the country. We have also had a significant increase in the proportion of the population that hold a university degree. A population with higher levels of education should result in positive changes over time to income levels, home ownership and many other benefits. The key ingredient in that equation is a good match between education and employment opportunities. There is some good work being done in this space and a closer relationship between schools, employers and training providers will be critical.

With the lowest access to the internet at home, there is a great case for more public access options to information and communication technologies. The proposed neighbourhood computer hubs and better online options at schools, marae and the public library service all need significant support and investment to bridge the digital divide and enable new technology-based industries and employment opportunities to evolve quickly.

The Gisborne/Tairāwhiti region has the highest proportion of Māori language speakers in the country, with one in six of us being able to converse in Te Reo. I agree with the Chief Statistician who has called our region ‘the home of Te Reo’ – an asset we can use not only in tourism but also as a selling point for the tens of thousands of people – Māori and non-Māori – who want their children to grow up bi-lingual and in an environment where Māori traditions and values are maintained and appreciated.

All in all, I’d say the numbers suggest we are a pretty fascinating mix of awesomeness with plenty of room for improvement, but also much to be proud of.

Challenging Child Abuse Statistics

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A new Child Poverty Action Group report has ranked the regions around the country on their child abuse statistics While Tairāwhiti is not amongst the highest areas we’re not near the bottom either. Being somewhere in the middle is positive considering our high proportion of young people and low socioeconomic status.

The data presented in the paper suggests that higher rates of child abuse are associated with socioeconomic deprivation rather than what age or ethnic group you belong to.

We will be contacting the authors to understand more about how they defined ‘substantiated’ as there a number of levels within the CYF system that could have been used as the measure.

I agree with the authors when they suggest even a cursory examination of the New Zealand data such as that presented in the report suggests that dealing effectively with child abuse will entail paying a great deal more attention to socioeconomic deprivation than has been the case so far. While the Government’s White Paper identified deprivation as a risk factor in child abuse, it failed to propose any measures to address it – on the contrary it sought to trivialise the role of income poverty by introducing “different sort[s] of poverty – poverty of affection, poverty of protection, poverty of expectation, poverty of educational stimulation, poverty of positive role models” (p.26). The White Paper focused on ‘benefit dependency’ as a risk factor for ‘vulnerable children’, however the analysis in the CPAG report suggests that may not be a useful approach.

And basically they are saying it’s not because a child is Māori or Pasifika that makes them more likely to be abused or neglected, it’s to do with socio-economic deprivation and ‘ethnic clustering’ in the social stratifications: “It is clear from the census data that low incomes and the effects of poverty tend to be clustered in certain areas and that Māori and Pacific people are disproportionately over-represented in these areas.”

Ethnic stratification exists in New Zealand, and while for Māori and Asian communities it is static or improving, for Pacific peoples it is getting worse.

The report says “There has been extensive research on the impact of ethnic segregation overseas but almost nothing in New Zealand. Ethnic stratification and ethnic clustering have not officially been identified as issues requiring attention in New Zealand and so are not measured by any central or local government agency. Yet the disproportionately high rates of child abuse among Māori across the country suggest that this aspect needs to be considered, especially as ethnic clustering is so closely associated with socioeconomic deprivation.”

It is impossible to disentangle ethnicity, poverty, poor health, overcrowded housing, and lack of access to employment and services from one another.

I have been asking for Council to report on these inequality issues within our region and it is on the staff work programme to do so. These are the kinds of things we can do something about locally instead of just saying it is a central government responsibility. Central government is part of the problem and locally we can do much more to address these issues than big bureaucracies can.

Justice for Teina Pora!

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Recently, new information and evidence has come to light that suggests Teina Pora should never have been convicted of rape and murder in 1994:

This petition calls on the Minister of Justice Judith Collins to support an urgent and independent inquiry into Teina’s conviction. It is supported by a growing list of individuals and organisations, not least of which is the Police Association itself.

Please click here to: SIGN THE PETITION

Thank you for supporting this campaign to get the NZ Justice system to fix a mistake it has made.

Teina-letter

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Are we all Placemakers?

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While the Cycle and Walkways have consistently been the most popular of the Major Projects in the Council’s Ten Year Plan, the Navigations Project has been one of the least popular and most controversial. Both projects are arguably about ‘placemaking’ and economic development – cycleways focus on making the city a more attractive, healthy and liveable city, the Navigations Project is more about telling local history stories to locals and visitors.

Research recently published by an initiative called the Project for Public Spaces and promoted by the Institute of Public Governance at the University of California Berkeley has explored the links between placemaking and economic growth in communities.

The research suggests creation of great public spaces is good for the economy, but only when it’s truly community-driven, open and inclusive. The more attached to a place local people are, the higher a city or region’s economic activity: “Placemaking, in other words, is a vital part of economic development.” True placemaking involves an open process that welcomes everyone who wants in, which provides the opportunity for residents — who may or may not know each other — to share ideas and be heard.

“The end result should be a space that’s flexible enough to make room for many different communities, and encourage connections between them.” Or, the flip side:  “If Placemaking is project-led, development-led, design-led or artist-led, then it does likely lead to… a more limited set of community outcomes.”

The success of the cycle ways and inner-harbour development will depend on the level of ownership we all have in the planning and implementation of both projects.

The study also argues that communities can change governance for the better “by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, making room both physically and philosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.”

Gisborne District Council has not had a great history of fostering public participation in planning and decision-making, usually opting for the minimum required. In fact the Consultation Policy adopted in 2008 specifically excluded citizen empowerment from the continuum of public involvement.

“Place Governance” on the other hand is a process by which decisions about places are made not from the top down, but by a collaborative process involving everyone. The Gisborne Fresh Water Advisory Group is a move toward this approach as it involves a wide cross-section of the community. However the FWAG falls short of real Place Governance because it is an exclusive group of organisations, meetings are not open to the public and the process is still controlled by Council.

The key actors in a Place Governance structure are not official agencies that deal with a few prescribed issues, but the people who use the area in question and are most intimately acquainted with its challenges. Officials who strive to implement this type of governance structure do so because they understand that the best solutions don’t come from within narrow disciplines, but from the points where people of different backgrounds come together.

I know some residents along the Taraheru River are concerned about how a boardwalk from Campion College to Grey Street may impact on the views, river access, tranquility and largely unspoiled riverfront they currently enjoy. While this project is on hold for the time being it will be essential for the residents, river users, iwi representatives, walkers and cyclists to work through how we can best utilise the public spaces along the river as this project proceeds. And I’m confident Council will ensure that happens.

Walking For Jonathan

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I expect we are all inspired and impressed with the feat Robert Hunter accomplished last week. Walking all the way from Hicks Bay to Gisborne demonstrated how passionate he is to ensure people who use marijuana know they risk mental illness as a result.

Robert says all along the way he heard numerous stories of heartbreak from family and friends of those affected by their use of marijuana. Robert’s son Jonathan was introduced to marijuana by friends and was one of many who develop psychotic symptoms when they use the drug a lot. It is marijuana use that his parents hold mostly responsible for Jonathan’s tragic suicide and it is the link between marijuana and psychosis they are campaigning about.

While Tairawhiti District Health Board and other local organisations no doubt receive thousands of taxpayer dollars for public health promotion every year, this simple act of love, Robert walking the length of our district in memory of his son, has generated more discussion on the issues in one week than anything else in recent memory.

We have to wonder where the community leaders are who will also speak out about the culture of acceptance. Is it the Tairawhiti District Health Board members and health professionals who are paid to promote wellbeing that are leading real change? Is it youth workers, counsellors, educators, police officers, probation officers and social workers that see the results of drugs in families and the effects on children? Is it local iwi leaders, sports stars, business people or other respected locals who have taken up the cause and helped communities rethink our addictions to marijuana, alcohol and other drugs?

Significant parts of our district accept drug abuse as part of the local culture, recognising its contribution to the local economy and passing on the habits from one generation to another. Few members of these communities are brave enough to challenge the dominant drug culture as it can literally result in attacks, ridicule or exclusion from the people and place they belong to.

For other parts of our community marijuana is an unfamiliar addiction, something that has only been picked up by a younger generation. But for this reason it can affect a family even more so and the inexplicable pain of having a child or grandchild take their own life is something no one should have to experience.

Research on the links between marijuana use and mental illness will benefit from this campaign, what we also need are decent support and treatment services appropriate for the range of individuals and families affected in our community. Next week there is a free two day training workshop for people interested in using a simple tool called ‘Smashed and Stoned’ that helps young people reflect on how and why they use drugs including marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol. I have found it very effective with teenagers and encourage others willing to be part of the solution to use it. Contact Bev Thomas at Turanga Health or Tim Marshall at Family Works to find out more.

It really was great to see so much support for his simple message as Robert passed through each settlement and a good turn out for the last leg into town. As Robert and Coralie have said, if the walk is able to spare just one family the pain of losing a family member, then the effort will have been worthwhile. Let’s hope it is the catalyst for sustained positive change in our community that will help many families.

Read more at: www.facebook.com/WalkingForJonathan

Dealing with Our Crap

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Thanks so much to Tami Gooch and Sam Tamanui for organising the Kopututea beach clean-up. Thanks also to the businesses that generously donated equipment, food and time.

Special thanks to the more than 200 Gisborne people, especially the young people, who spent a few hours of Good Friday cleaning up the mess caused by some irresponsible individuals.

Illegal dumping suggests some of us are not prepared to deal properly with stuff after we have finished with it. I don’t accept the excuse that transfer station fees are too expensive; if we can afford to buy or use something, we need to take responsibility for the whole life cycle of the item.

The bulk of the crap we picked up (and there was quite a few bags of dog poo as well as a whole dog) were small deposits of household waste that would easily fit in a black rubbish bag to be collected from the curb with the orange stickers provided by council.

In addition to the two over-filled skip bins, we delivered a trailer and carload of recycling to the transfer station — this is, of course, free to dispose of every week as the recycling truck drives past every home.

There was a fair amount of biodegradable waste, including garden waste (could make compost or drop to the green waste facility) and a number of animal parts (use the offal pit on the farm the animal came from).

It’s a beautiful stretch of coastline, let’s all respect it and keep it clean!

Vulnerable children strategy misses opportunity

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Government plans to better support children at risk of abuse have a range of good ideas but miss some important opportunities to reduce reliance on agencies according to a group using volunteers to improve child safety.

“The white paper strategy is almost exclusively focused on professionals and agencies – both government and non-government. We think they have missed a critical piece of the puzzle, which is utilising the healthy, caring adults in communities and neighbourhoods that children are being raised in. It takes a village to raise a child and healthy villages raise healthy children” said Manu Caddie the project manager for Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki, a neighbourhood project focused on keeping children safe in two suburbs of Gisborne and Whanganui.

“We have seen how adults within neighbourhoods can develop their skills and grow their commitment to supporting vulnerable families, including parents and children. Everyone can agree that kids should be safe, and providing opportunities for neighbours to get to know and trust each other reduces isolation and risk.”

Mr Caddie said some of the measures in the Government white paper released today sound ‘big brother’ and intrusive but there are a group of adults who should not have children in their care.

“It’s disappointing that most of the measures seem to give more power to the state and professionals, I guess we would have liked to see more focus on Government supporting neighbourhoods and communities to become healthy, trusting and well connected” said Mr Caddie.

“The Vulnerable Kids Information System to identify risks prior to birth may be useful, because it’s quite possible to see the train crash coming, but combined with the recently announced Government sterilisation of beneficiaries, there is a risk you are heading down a pathway to eugenics”.

A database of at-risk children could be a very powerful tool in child abuse prevention, but Mr Caddie points to existing national databases of at-risk children and wonders how successful these have been.

“We know for all the good work Child, Youth & Family do, their extensive national database that tracks children and families still contains many, many children who are being mistreated.”

Mr Caddie said he hoped parents would be supported to access the information agencies held about the families as professionals can misuse their power, even when they think they are helping.

Mr Caddie said Te Ora Hou Aotearoa, the organisation he works for supports the white paper proposal for a national education campaign to identify signs of abuse, but would also like to see a campaign focused on keeping kids safe and cared for.

Tiakina o Tatou Tamariki involves ‘Community Animators’ mobilising neighbourhood residents and other volunteers to build trusting, supportive relationships within communities with a focus on keeping children safe and healthy. The three year project is privately funded and a recent evaluation suggested it is demonstrating value for money as an investment in the prevention of child maltreatment.

Te Ora Hou is a national network of faith-based Māori and Pacific youth and community development organisations established in 1976. Te Ora Hou supports volunteers to mentor children and young people as well providing a range of educational and developmental opportunities for children and parents including teen parenting initiatives, early childhood centres, alternative education programmes and rehabilitation services for young offenders.

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More information:

www.teorahou.org.nz

Tel. 0274202957

Turbo-Charging Tairāwhiti Technology Take-Up

Lytton High School students demonstrating Auto-CAD to Ilminster Intermediate students at Tairāwhiti Techxpo 2012.

I recently visited two initiatives in Auckland to look at what they are doing with young people and technology. At Point England School in Glen Innes students all have their own NetBook, each family pays $3.50 per week for the child to have their own device for school and home work. At Clubhouse 274 in Otara I visited the Community Technology Centre where students go after school to use high-end equipment they can’t access at home and many were working on commercial projects.

Recently a number of local people and projects have converged to progress some exciting technology opportunities for the district that are already having positive social and economic outcomes, but more support is urgently required.

Tairawhiti Techxpo was a great day last week that provided a solid foundation for a bigger and better event next year. Thanks to the schools that participated, we had hundreds of young people get a taste of employment and career opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology sectors of robotics, hardware, networking, software, app development, entertainment, aerospace, imaging, animation and computer-aided-design industries.

Thanks must also go to the generous sponsors including Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, EIT Tairāwhiti, Eastland Community Trust and the small businesses and individuals that contributed on the day and through the event organising.

One of the Techxpo keynote speakers from Wellington joined the monthly Gizzy Geeks meeting in the evening. Nathalie Whitaker is a net entrepreneur and is keen to move to Gisborne with a number of her colleagues, the lifestyle, surf and clean environment are what attract them. Something that would make Tairawhiti even more appealing to these IT entrepreneurs is for Gisborne to have a bunch of competent geeks who can do the technical programming work that sits behind the software products Nathalie and her friends develop.

What the Techxpo highlighted was that our high schools are now growing such talent locally. Lytton High School had a large contingent of IT experts and Gisborne Girls’ High School and Campion College were also very well represented in the demonstrations provided by students. Other schools have already booked a spot for next year to showcase the skills and products being developed through cutting-edge teaching and learning.

A number of Gisborne school students are now making and selling smartphone apps internationally – this is a $40billion global market with over 10 billion downloads last year alone.

The Rangitawaea Nati Awards next week is an annual fixture that encourages and recognises IT talent in Ngati Porou schools, another fabulous showcase of skills and creativity grown in our region and reaching out to the world.

The Techxpo, the Gizzy Geeks group, the Nati Awards and the new Tairāwhiti Computer Hub Trust have proved a fertile ground for collaboration between technology specialists and a number of exciting new business opportunities are emerging from the relationships built around particular skills, interests and networks.

And where does all this sit in terms of regional economic development planning? It is dismissed in the Regional Economic Development Strategy (2009) as an unlikely prospect and rendered invisible in the subsequent Economic Development Action Plan. Perhaps this absence is not a big issue considering the Action Plan has been largely ignored from the day it was produced.

What is important is that the IT sector is recognised as a cornerstone of every local business and that it is factored into the priorities of entities like the Eastland Community Trust and Gisborne District Council that have a focus on supporting sustainable economic development. While public entities ‘don’t pick winners’, they do provide limitations and opportunities for the expansion of particular industries.

We need to look urgently at what infrastructure beyond Ultrafast Broadband will enable a fledgling IT sector to quickly become a serious economic driver for our local communities. Neighbourhood computer hubs, low-cost residential wi-fi and a commercial programming academy seem sensible ideas to explore.

Tairāwhiti families encouraged to go Screen-Free for the week

International Screen-Free Week starts today and Gisborne families are being encouraged to think about taking a break from technology.

Head Librarian Pene Walsh says: “Over 20,000 Gisborne people can’t be wrong. The members of HB Williams Memorial Library have increased their book borrowing by 20% over the same time last year. Surely that must mean their screen-time has shrunk by 20%.

Even though it is easier than ever to goggle at the telly, google on the computer, txt and tweet, fiddle about on Facebook or game the night away, when you add all that time up I reckon you’d be amazed and maybe feel there is a teeny bit more to life.

In our house all screentime is counted together so we choose and when time’s up, it is up.

Just ask Councillor Manu Caddie’s whanau – they have agreed to stop watching TV or going on the internet in the evenings – good on them, why don’t we join him for Screenfree week and try some ‘faceface’ time and visit one of our 200 friends or even try a bit of ‘bookbook’ time – yep, actually read one!

I for one will be reading several of the 120 children’s books entered in the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards and getting off my backside to visit my old neglected friend – yoga.”

Father of two and Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie said his family had recently put away the TV permanently and this week were having a break from the internet at home and it may stay that way.

“Most Kiwi families have television at home now, some screens are really dominant – both in the sheer physical size and the time its on all hours of the day and night.

Our kids love using the computer but some of the stuff is so compelling they forget about playing outside. We live in paradise and I want to make sure the kids get to enjoy their environment, use their imagination to create and not be completely sucked in by multinational corporations forcing brands down their throats.”

Screen-Free Week (www.screenfree.org) is an international project of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and this year runs from 30 April to 6 May. Since 1996, millions of children and their families have participated in Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff). Each year, thousands of parents, teachers, librarians, youth workers and clergy organise Screen-Free Weeks in their communities.

New Zealand research has found links between watching too much TV in childhood and later problems, including obesity, high cholesterol, poor fitness, smoking, short attention span, poor concentration – and lower rates of school and university qualifications.

One of the researchers, Dr Bob Hancox, said the educational effects of television viewing could not be explained by intelligence or socio-economic factors.

“It’s not just that children with little natural ability decided to watch more television. Children of all levels of intelligence did worse if they watched a lot of television.

“Similarly, the association between watching television and poor achievement was not because heavy television viewers had poor socio-economic backgrounds.

“There is extraordinarily strong evidence now that [screen] media have a major impact on children and adolescents. It’s not surprising because they spend many hours a day with media, of which television is the most important.”

Youth health package just scratches surface

One of the unforeseen knock on impacts of mass lay offs, benefit restrictions and high youth unemployment brought on by the privatisation agenda of the late 80s and early 90s was a tripling of New Zealand suicide rates in the 1990s.

So Martyn Bradbury suggests the $62 million for youth mental health announcement earlier this month is like taking an aspirin for a gunshot wound.

It’s a win, albeit a small one for Sir Peter Gluckman, someone who has constantly called for Key to take the plight of New Zealand youth seriously.

As someone who has called for youth workers in high schools for a decade it is pleasing to see a select few of the poorest schools will now get this support, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the needs.

All the initiatives like additional school nurses, anti-bullying programmes, parenting information services and a little top up for the few youth one stop shops that have survived sound great but barely scratch the surface in terms of the challenges facing at-risk young people.

Of course the government cannot fund everything, especially now they are borrowing so heavily to cover the tax cuts no one really needed.

Taxes have been described as ‘the national expression of corporal love’ – and it is fascinating to look at what has happened over the past twenty five years since top tax rates started reducing. Income inequality in New Zealand increased faster than in any other OECD country. Most of the increase was due to larger rises in overall incomes for the top 20% of income earners. Incomes for the bottom 20% actually decreased over the two decades from the mid-1980s.

British academics Professor Richard Wilkinson and Professor Kate Pickett use ten key indicators mapped against income inequality measures to compile an Index of Health and Social Problems. New Zealand features as or amongst the worst on most of the indicators.

The damage being done to the next generation living in deepening poverty will exact a terrible price on our communities. It is good to see some acknowledgement of the need to invest in the health and wellbeing of young people, but this token gesture is far from what is really needed.

Hoping Hēkia’s here to help


I appreciated the opportunity that Minister of Education Hekia Parata provided last week for local school Board of Trustees and Principals to meet with her.

The Minister has been passionate about the benefits of education for a long time and it is exciting to see someone born on the Coast in such a senior position again.

I was excited to hear about developments in governance coming out of the Christchurch situation. Ten years ago the Kiwa Education Partnership discussed a campus-based approach to schooling in Gisborne but it doesn’t seem to have eventuated. Cluster governance makes sense when we think about a village raising a child and a seamless transition between early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling.

It was somewhat reassuring to hear the Minister say she doesn’t see any need to link performance-based pay to National Standards. One of the big fears in low decile schools is that such a policy could see highly skilled teachers moving to schools where more students have participated in quality early childhood education and have better access to support for their learning. Advice from Treasury officials also reject pay based on test scores.

Ministry of Education research shows that students from poorer communities generally have slower progress than their peers – the level of material resources available to families, health problems, substance abuse and conflict, all have a deep impact on the ability of students to attend school and learn. If pay is based on the rate of progression, this may also disadvantage teachers and communities where progression is slower because of external influences.

High student expectations from parents and teachers is essential and building strong partnerships between home and school is one of the most important things we can do.

Class sizes do have a major impact on student achievement and the secondary teachers current collective agreement limits class size to no more than 26 students. While it may save money to squeeze more kids into each class, we should expect learning to be compromised.

Though it seems to go against the whole basis of the National Standards her government pushed through in their last term, I was pleased to hear the Minister acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all and progression in learning and achievement levels should be ‘flexible’.

It was also reassuring to hear the Minister sees inequality as a major issue that the country needs to address – both in terms of educational achievement and socio-economic status. Of course we are yet to see what the plan is for addressing the growing inequalities, fuelled in part by some massive tax cuts for those of us who least need them while future generations are being burdened with government loans from China.

Schools are not solely responsible for addressing every issue facing kids – neither is central government, nor parents or the wider community. But together each stakeholder has an important part to play in pulling together the pieces of the puzzle.

Beginning a ‘conversation’ on what the goals should be and how as a community and country we can achieve them is an admirable and pragmatic approach for any new Minister. I hope the commitment to a mutually meaningful dialogue is genuine and key stakeholders all have a real opportunity to shape the direction of education in New Zealand. Tough choices have to be made all the time by those wielding power in public but including all of the people most affected by decisions in the process is essential for good results to be achieved and enduring.

Manu Caddie is Chairperson of a school Board of Trustees but these views do not necessarily reflect those of the school staff, whānau or BOT.